Question: I bought a new Honda in 1984, and the dealership where I bought it claims that they alone should do all the servicing. A mechanic also told me that using anything other than Honda-brand air filters and other such parts would damage the car. The dealership is far from my house. Couldn't I have the car serviced near my home and use other than Honda parts?--L.T.
Answer: Having your car serviced at a dealership is a good idea as long as it is covered by the new-car warranty, which is one year or 12,000 miles for most cars. But once the warranty expires, you can have it repaired by any qualified mechanic with any parts that meet the car manufacturer's specifications.
When the car is under warranty, the owner is required to follow a specified service schedule in order to keep the guarantee in force. Usually in the first 12,000 miles, this will include two oil changes, two tuneups and some other routine maintenance work. You have to pay for this preventive maintenance yourself, and it you fail to have it done, the warranty will be void should the car develop serious problems.
Ordinarily, the work is done at a dealership, often at the same time you take the car in to have any warranty work done. But you can usually have the service done elsewhere, provided you can prove, should the car develop major problems, that it was done properly by a qualified mechanic. This can get you into a hassle, so it's usually easier to just go to a dealership until the warranty expires.
After the first year, many car owners prefer to have maintenance work done at a local service station or some other shop closer to home. These facilities are often less expensive than the dealer.
As for parts, the components sold through dealerships meet the manufacturer's specifications and often were made by the same company that built the car. But a number of other companies make car parts for sale through retail automotive stores that are just as good as those sold by dealers. As long as you use the right part, it doesn't make much difference whose factory made it.
Q: Can I use unleaded gasoline in my 1968 Chevrolet Malibu?
A: Your car was built when engines were designed to burn leaded fuel. The lead in the gasoline acts as a lubricant for both the valve stems and valve seats, preventing premature wear. The makers of unleaded gasoline have tried to formulate the fuel for use in these older cars, but some mechanics contend that the vehicles still need leaded fuel.
If you're worried, you can use unleaded fuel most of the time and run a tank of leaded gasoline through the engine every once in a while to replenish the lead needed by the valves.
Q: I have a 1980 Pontiac Phoenix that has fishtailed several times when I try to stop. I've had new brake linings installed, and my mechanic can find nothing wrong with the car. What could be the trouble?--J.R.R.
A: Your car and other so-called X cars built by General Motors Corp. are the subject of litigation over whether GM should have to recall the vehicles and repair the brake system. Government safety experts contend that the rear brakes on the X cars can lock up when a driver steps on the brake pedal, causing the car to fishtail.
Government officials say a valve that controls brake-fluid pressure to the front and rear wheels allows too much braking action to the rear, causing the rear brakes to lock up. Front-wheel-drive vehicles such as the X cars normally require more brake capability in the front because that's the heaviest part of the car.
Take your car to a Pontiac dealer and have the brakes checked. If the mechanic can find nothing wrong with the vehicle, you may have to await the outcome of the current lawsuit in Washington before deciding what to do.
Patrick Boyle cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.